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Thousands Flee as 19 Wildfires Burn in Southeast Australia

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Thousands Flee as 19 Wildfires Burn in Southeast Australia
Fire burns in Jumbuck, Australia on March 4. Fire crews are battling more than 20 bushfires ablaze in southeast Victoria. Darrian Traynor / Getty Images

As many as 19 wildfires were burning in the Southeastern Australian state of Victoria on Monday, forcing thousands to flee their homes, CNN reported.

Lightning strikes last week were the immediate cause of the fires, Victoria emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp said, according to CNN. Two of the fires, at Bunyip and Yinnar South in West Gippsland, destroyed nine buildings, including homes, on Sunday, The Guardian reported. As of Monday, more than 2,000 firefighters were working to control the blazes.


"This is a challenging time and it's going to be a very busy time for firefighters and emergency services across the state," Crisp said, according to CNN.

The Bunyip State Forest fire, which has burned through more than 12,000 hectares (approximately 29,653 acres), is the priority for firefighters because it threatens the largest number of homes, The Guardian reported.

The township of Tonimbuk inside Bunyip State Park was "all but wiped off the map" by the blaze, Network 10 journalist Candice Wyatt tweeted.

One of the residents to suffer the impact of the fire was Andrew Clarke, owner of the Jinks Creek Winery, who lost the vineyard he had first started planting in 1979, Network 10 reported.

"My vineyard is basically melted. I was meant to be picking my grapes yesterday, the first lot. That's about it, we've just lost everything," Clarke said, according to CNN.

Firefighters are working to control the blazes before "gusty and erratic" winds are predicted to reach the area Wednesday. Cooler temperatures are also expected. However, accompanying thunderstorms could actually spark more fires, and the rain and snow predicted will not be enough to douse the fires, Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) senior forecaster Michael Efron told The Guardian.

"Really these fires will be burning for some time until we get significant rainfall," he said.

The bushfires continue a year of extreme weather for Australia, which began 2019 with a record-breaking heat wave.

"This is the hottest start to autumn in 30 years, following the hottest summer on record," senior forecaster Tom Delamotte said in a statement reported by Network 10.

Environment Minister Melissa Price blamed climate change for the weather extremes, including the bushfires.

"There's no doubt that there's many people who have suffered over this summer. We talk about the Victorian bushfires; (in) my home state of Western Australia we've also got fires there," she told Sky News Tuesday, The Australian reported. "There's no doubt that climate change is having an impact on us. There's no denying that."

BOM's State of the Climate 2018 report found that there had been a long-term increase in both extreme fire weather and the length of the fire season in most of Australia.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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